Summer holidays are ending soon. Bags have been unpacked. Swimsuits have been washed. School supplies have been bought. And memories have been created.
When I was a child, because my family is from the South, we spent a lot of time in Florida. Every year, Fr. Abraham, the kids and I also spend a good amount of time in Florida and try to do something Disney, even if it is Disney Springs. For those of you who may not know, Disney is known as “the happiest place on Earth!” Besides their presence in the movie industry, they are known for their theme parks with rides, games and loads of entertainment.
Honestly, one of my all-time favorite places is anything Disney! I LOVE Disney. I love the movies, the theme parks, the cruises, the hotels, and so much more!
I want to spend some time reminiscing on lessons that the church can learn from Disney. Specifically, how the church can learn from Disney on how to create a welcoming environment. From the moment you walk into a Disney park, everyone is made to feel like an honored guest, like they matter above everyone else.
In our churches, we all know someone who has come to church and not feel loved, or has been hurt, rejected, or felt isolated. Both young and old want to stop coming because they don’t feel loved, or belonging or a sense of family. God commands us to love the stranger, the one who is left out. To welcome this child of God.
And if a stranger dwell with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Leviticus 19:33-34
The stranger is not just a foreign person, but anyone different than us. Anyone we don’t know well, or looks different or holds different beliefs.
We have all had experiences of good and bad hospitality in the church. Let’s take some lessons from Disney on how they get hospitality right and how we can apply it in the church.
- Be our Guest
The Be our Guest motto is intentionally drilled into everyone that works for Disney. From the security guard to the hotel staff to the guy who picks up the trash. Every employee receives hospitality training more than any other trainings.
For example, when someone is checking into a Disney hotel, the staff all say “welcome home.” When you walk into a Disney cruise, they let one family in at a time by announcing their names, clapping their hands and making a big celebration!
Everywhere you go in a Disney park, you are called a “guest” not a “visitor.”
Applying this motto in the church: The entire church is ready to make someone feel loved.
In the church, when a new person walks in, we either do one of two things: stare at them or figure out what we can “get out of them” – like can we make them a member or baptize them – rather than simply enjoying their presence.
It is sad, in Zambia, we hear many youths saying they get more love at the bars and feel more welcome there than at church. In the States, kids find it at school instead of at church. The mentality of our churches should be “Welcome to our Father’s House” and embrace and go out of our way to serve them not to “win them, or change them or preach to them.”
How to practice this? We can talk about it until it becomes the DNA of our churches. If you teach Sunday school, talk about it every week. If you are a leader and give sermons, talk about it in your message. Create the environment starting with you.
In African churches, there is a tradition to have a song and dance as you greet the visitor and there is a huge celebration. You can create this same environment in your Sunday School classes and churches.
At one church I visited years ago, they really knew how to make everyone, young and old, feel welcome. We had a multi-generational group with us and everyone was made to feel welcome. Even a mother with her teenage daughter brought her daughter to greet one of the teenage girls in our group. That was the natural DNA of that church. And every person felt they had a role in that church’s mission of welcoming and loving the guest.
2. Be Intentional
Disney is intentional in everything they do. And every employee is empowered to create “magic moments” for their guests.
One of our first vacations that we took a few months after our daughter was very ill and diagnosed with celiac disease was a Disney cruise for our 10-year wedding anniversary. As a mom, you can imagine how nervous I was, because I had no idea what to expect or what she would eat. The Disney staff immediately took away all of my worries by going out of their way to find something gluten free for little Mary Grace. No Disney staff ever told me to go check over there or sent me away, but would intentionally go out of their way to help find something the little one wanted. They set the standard really high.
Applying intentionality in the church: Pray for it and seek it out!
To apply this lesson in the church, we must seek opportunities to be intentional. When we are in church, we tend to chat with those that we know very well. However, to be intentional means to go and greet a stranger, or those we don’t really know well, or who feel marginalized or left out.
See someone alone? Go be intentional. Bring them a coffee. Go and strike up a conversation.
In your ministries, be intentional. Create a coffee hour and have greeters. Create or spruce up your hospitality ministry. Create a welcome table for visitors to come to and connect to the church. There are amazing ideas on Pinterest on how to create a welcome gift for guests to give at the welcome table.
Only 4% of guests come back to church after the first visit unless they find a compelling reason. If they have come a second time to church, the percentage they will be back increases to 25%. If they have come a third time, then the percentage is 70% they will stay in your church.
The goal is to be intentional to do the things that connect a guest, increasing the percentage that they find a community in your church.
3. Be Excellent in the Details
Disney pays attention to all the details. They really take the time to care for the details about everything. From the waiting lines to the décor of the rides to themes of every town and food options in each area. They have a team that discuss the details and are ready to make changes as needed.
The CEO himself models this behavior and is often found picking up trash because he sees the details too. They create excellence in the details.
Applying paying attention to details in the Church: Look at the church through a guest’s eyes.
Look around the church from a guest’s perspective. Are the bathrooms clean? Are there ample and comfortable sitting areas? How clean are the crying rooms? Is their junk around the church? What signs do you have up and what impression does it give? Does anything need to be renovated and updated?
See the need and go after a solution. If it is my Father’s house, then I should help take care of that house.
Instead of giving moms harsh looks when a child is making noise, we put out coloring books and crayons that parents can use for the kids. In our church, we have liturgy helpers that help the guest and sit next to them if they need help with the liturgy. We have a follow-up plan in place and call or visit the guest every week after their visit. We analyze the flow of the church when distributing snacks. We have regular trainings for our Hospitality Ministry Team. We include a parking ministry to welcome people starting from the parking lot. We work as a team to make a process of membership and so much more.
Using a team of people, even someone who hasn’t been to your church before, to look at the details around you from a guest’s perspective and then implement these changes. No detail is too small. And all can help create a more welcoming environment.
There are many lessons the church can learn from Disney. These are just a few on how the church can learn to create a more welcoming environment. People will no longer need to go to Disney to find happiness and joy but can find it right down the street in their church families!
Mission Assignment: Pray and work with the leadership to implement some of these ideas. Pray and let the change start with you.